Navy widow's effort to combat veteran suicide goes viral

By MIKE HIXENBAUGH | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 16, 2015

PORTSMOUTH (Tribune News Service) — At first, the video that went viral on Facebook makes you laugh: A young woman says nothing as she flips through a series of handwritten signs, telling the story of how she fell in love with her sailor husband.

They met at a Wal-Mart in Mississippi. “Love at first sight!” the note card says.

They got married six months later, “with our first child on the way.” The woman points to that last line and smirks, giving a knowing thumbs up.

The words on the note cards soon turn grim, and the woman fights tears.

Stephanie Lembo was a stay-at-home mom with two young children living in Portsmouth. Her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Lembo, had been a Naval Special Warfare fast boat crew member. Life was difficult, but they were making it.

“But something triggered in him ... ,” the next note card says.

After a training exercise in November 2010, Anthony Lembo came home “a different person completely.”

“The symptoms were there,” the next slide in Stephanie Lembo’s hand says, but “I didn’t know what to do.”

She’d asked him to get help, but he told her he was afraid he would lose his security clearance.

She’s weeping when she lifts the card that reads: “Instead on Nov. 8, 2010 he committed SUICIDE.”

By Tuesday, the video had been viewed more than 18 million times, and Stephanie Lembo, now a suicide-awareness advocate, had raised more than $52,000 for Carry The Fallen, a national movement to combat veteran suicide. She was blown away by the response, and she hadn’t expected to be so emotional while she made the video.

“I was just looking at each slide, and I was basically reliving 10 years in five minutes,” said Lembo, reached by phone Tuesday in Mississippi. “The day we met. Our marriage. Everything I’ve been through since then.”

Now, out of the ashes of tragedy, she’s hoping to find a purpose.

Near the end of the video, Stephanie Lembo, no longer crying, nods as she holds another note for the camera:

“We have to start somewhere ... And now is the time ... This has to stop ... I don’t want another spouse to feel the way I feel everyday.”

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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A video screen grab shows Stephanie Lembo, the widow of Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Lembo, telling her story.

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